Paul H. Trattner, a retired Baltimore public schools art educator and webmaster who was also a noted prestidigitator and popular Santa Claus, died Aug. 28 of heart failure at his Coldspring Newtown home. He was 70.
"Paul was a kind, gentle person who was a great asset to the magic fraternity," said George Goebel, a veteran Baltimore illusionist who owns A.T. Jones & Sons, the Howard Street costumer.
"He was a wonderful performer and had charisma. He was also a magnificent Santa Claus. If there was ever a symbol of Santa Claus in anyone's mind, it was Paul," said Mr. Goebel.
The son of a draftsman and a homemaker, Paul Henry Trattner was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown.
After graduating from Patterson High School in 1961, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a master's degree in art education the next year, also from MICA.
Mr. Trattner's teaching career began in 1965 when he taught art at Armistead Gardens and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools. He later became a graphic arts designer and webmaster at city schools headquarters, from which he retired in 2002.
In addition to teaching, Mr. Trattner had a parallel career as a magician, psychic reader, palmist, Egyptologist and astrologer who performed both locally and internationally.
"His interest in magic began when he was 12, when an uncle showed him some magic tricks. Inspired, he began teaching himself the arts of illusion using books checked out from the Enoch Pratt Free Library," said his wife of 46 years, the former Bernadette Lizurick, who met her future husband when both were high school students.
"It was like a hobby for him at first," said Mrs. Trattner, who was also an art teacher and later became her husband's assistant. "Sometimes he used it to interest and motivate his students."
By the early 1980s, Mr. Trattner was performing magic professionally and as a "psychic entertainer," said his wife. He performed at the Maryland Historical Society, Center Club, Maryland Jockey Club, Laurel Park racetrack as well as at conventions, senior citizen centers, weddings and private parties.
The couple also performed on cruise ships, including the former liner SS France, and at the Magic Circle in London.
"Paul liked performing what is called historic magic from the 19th century, and everything he did, he did exceptionally well," said Mr. Goebel. "He was an extraordinary gentle person who was very soft-spoken and very kind."
"He explained the history of magic through magic," said Mrs. Trattner, who said the license plate for their car was "U R MAGIC."
His interest in mysticism, magic and esoterica led him to collect an extensive library of books and paraphernalia devoted to this subject.
"He traveled to Egypt three times to research traditions of belief systems and was proud to have been able to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid," his wife said.
"Paul called himself a 'purveyor of wonderment,' and he really was," she said. "He loved to delight audiences, especially children. His lesson to them was to believe in themselves. He used to say to them, 'You are the magic,' and he made them aware that we all have talent and creativity."
Mr. Trattner maintained a deep interest in the 19th century, including its Christmas traditions. He also became an expert on the international myths and legends of Christmas that are still celebrated today.
In later years, with his full white beard, rotund build and naturally effervescent personality, he became the "personification of a 19th-century Santa Claus while performing historic conjuring tricks using authentic props from the era," his wife said.
For the last six years, Mr. Trattner was the "official Santa Claus" at Greetings and Readings at Hunt Valley Towne Centre, where he listened to children's Christmas wishes.
He also took on the role of St. Nicholas for the last five years in Fells Point's annual holiday celebration, at which he arrived by tugboat.